Recently I was sitting in a dance concert recently watching a piece, which was almost completely in unison. Now, in today’s world of contemporary dance the idea of unison (especially for long segments of time) is often considered trite, predictable, or old fashioned. As I watched the piece (which was also very slow) I was struck by how moved I was at seeing a mass move in exact unison. The oneness was soothing not only my eye, but to something deeper within me, not quite as deep as the soul, but it touched my innate humanity, that part of us that seeks to belong, to be a part of and identify to tribe. It is the thing that creates recognition, and sameness in ourselves and others. The desire for recognition is that animal instinct that informs us that “You are not an enemy, not a predator but one of us, I do not have to fear you”. Though the piece was very simple in it’s movement vocabulary, having danced in a corps de ballet, I know how difficult it is to stay in time with a group of people. Though there are counts to help everyone stay together, there is a deeper more visceral connection that happens when people have the intention of staying together, you have feel. There is a submission of the individual and the absorption into the collective, larger entity. This is the essence of the concept of the Corps de Ballet- the Body of the ballet, and we are one. In dance there is that idea of physical uniformity, where the size, shapes, forms of individuals need to match to create a visual harmony for the viewer. There are dance works that require dancers to where the identical costumes, hair and make-up, rendering the bodies on stage virtually indistinguishable from each other, thereby erasing the individual.
This idea appeals to us because as human beings we have a need to be a part of the collective, while also needing to stand apart. It is not so much the desire for separatism, but the desire to maintain our individuality. This is the duplicity of human nature; we so vigilantly defend our individuality yet we have this innate need and desire to be one with the tribe. The key is to fit in, but stand out just enough. In a sense I see the same principle with the body, and fashion in the real world. There is that desire for uniformity, sameness, and blending. Take for instance the concept of One Size Fits All…
There is something so inclusive and egalitarian about that phrase. There is something about the concept that one thing, can serve all people in the same way. It implies a type of uniformity and balance that is required in the human psyche to feel ok, safe. As lovely as it might *sound and as altruistic the concept might be the reality of it being achievable is virtually impossible. “One Size”, may fit many or even most but it will never fit all, and those who fall outside of that scale of “All” where do they belong? What does that say about them and where they fit? Therein lies the problem.
The concept of One Size may seem to be a frivolous topic when talking about fashion, you say, “ So chose another designer, a different style or cut, what’s the big deal?” And generally I would agree with you, however it is not only the concept, that I am scrutinizing, but also the language and the mentality behind words. To imply that we as human beings can so simplistically be diminished to a banal level of sameness based on a common structure (one spine two are, two legs, etc) is absurd. If you transfer the concept of sameness to something like education or medicine it starts to look vastly different and potentially harmful. Where the foundational elements of learning are Universal (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) it has been proven that children learn not only at different paces, but also in different ways. Today we would never think of presenting such a narrow approach to the education of young people, mainly because it is ineffective. If we think of the concept of medicine, which though a science is really a the categorization and grouping of symptoms that add up to a particular ailment that have things in common, there is not really *one way to treat ailments, there is almost always a tailoring of treatment to match the patient.
So why does society try to treat the body and beauty (in terms of form) with uniformity? It seems silly but in truth it can be just as detrimental as treating illness with a broad stroke. Then there is the idea of separation, full figure, big and tall clothing lines, these labels create a sense of “otherness” in the people who fall in to this category. It, whether designed to or not creates exclusion. It could be considered tantamount to the educational idea of “separate but equal” and we know how that ended. I know that creating categories are ways of marketing and merchandizing that makes it easier to serve consumers and that is understandable but the stigma attached to people who don’t fit into the “One Size” of the norm can leave them feeling ostracized. Something must be “wrong” with you if you don’t fit.
I find the inescapable contradictions of human beings infinitely interesting. While we strive to be a part of the group there is something within us that wants, needs to be identified as different, individual, perhaps this is one of the things that makes us different from other animals. As sophisticated as we are, we have not yet (as a society and as individuals) learned how to negotiate the reality of the principles of sameness and otherness occupying the same space. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of “One Size Fits All” albeit when it is used against people who do not fall in to that category this is when it becomes a problem. Everything is copasetic until you are not a part of the “all”.
There is a beauty in uniformity, there is a harmony and balance that resonates with us on a visceral level and that is very real. When we see a forest of trees, a field of sunflowers, it moves us, homogeny in the human race, or culture as a similar effect, but we have to be able to accept, appreciate, respect AND include things that are different. A snow covered ground is one of the most beautiful things, though made up of individual snowflakes the beauty is the togetherness of the flakes, and we all know, and are still awed by the fact that each flake is singular as are we. One size is just that, One Size and that’s ALL!
Just a thought…